TABAN GEOFREY KOMA
CENTRAL EQUATORIA – “Protecting civilians is our main credo as soldiers,” said Captain Luka Akimudan Ali.
Captain Ali, the commander of the South Sudan Peoples Defense Forces (SSPDF), was speaking at a workshop facilitated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Mugwo payam [administrative division] located in Yei county in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state.
The focus of the workshop: to convene and connect community members, SSPDF personnel and local police in a bid to enhance voluntary returns and fortify a safe, secure environment for residents.
“Our soldiers are sensitized on the need to protect everybody, especially travelers on the road to Morobo, and we call on other forces who are still operating in the bush to join us in keeping communities safe,” added Captain Ali.
Organized by the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Protection, Transition and Reintegration Section, the training modules included interactive discussions on civilian attacks; harm caused to humanitarian workers; displacement of people and protection as well as support for returnees, especially youth, to reintegrate into their communities and rebuild their lives.
Cecilia Gire Anania, a resident of Mugwo participating in the workshop spoke about the improvement in the security situation.
“As women and young girls, we have lived through a time when it was impossible for us to traverse even a small distance unaccompanied because we would either be robbed and beaten or fall victim to sexual violence,” she reminisced. “We are very happy that things have taken a turn for the better and we feel much safer now, though I am cogniscent that much more needs to be done to usher in lasting peace and stability.”
Relationships between civilians and military actors also constituted a key dialogue during the forum. This culminated in an agreement for more frequent experience-sharing between community members, including women, young people, and traditional leaders, with the SSPDF to ensure social cohesion and trust building.
For payam administrator Lomudong Samuel Rufas, it is imperative that such cordial relationships extend to all other forces such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition.
“It is our hope that all uniformed actors participate in such trainings so that we are all on the same page, specially when it comes to protecting women and children,” he stated simply but eloquently. “This will go a long way in encouraging refugees and internally displaced persons to turn their steps homewards to Mugwo,” he added
Facilitators from the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) and the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM), for their part briefed participants on the ongoing peace process as well as the outstanding benchmarks contained within the 2018 peace deal that need to be fulfilled for free, fair, and peaceful elections to be held within the stipulated timeframe since the end of the transitional period is near.
“All parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement must fulfil their responsibilities to ensure that critical tasks are completed, especially drafting a permanent constitution and graduating the Necessary Unified Forces, so that the South Sudanese people can express their will at the ballot boxes,” said Esther Kyewalabye, Senior Humanitarian Adviser, RJMEC.
Mugwo, like many other counties in different states across this young nation, has seen an upsurge in documented cases of sexual violence, as per records obtained from the Yei County Court.
“As I speak, there are serious cases of women and girls being attacked and undergoing treatment in the Yei Civil Hospital,” said Jacquelyn Nakayenze, CTSAMVM Team Leader in Yei.
“It is vital that everybody understands that any form of violence against women is unacceptable and detrimental to peacebuilding,” she continued.
This workshop is part of a series of similar undertakings organized by UNMISS across Central Equatoria state to build consensus around the need for durable peace and encourage voluntary returns.